‘Obvious choice’

New York’s 1st woman attorney general is the most qualified person to ever hold the post

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, in New York, May 9, 2018. Underwood, most recently the state’s solicitor general, was appointed to replace Eric Schneiderman, who quit his job amid allegations of physical assault. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times) heisler@nytimes.com NYTCREDIT: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Following the abrupt resignation of New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman in the wake of allegations that he had violently abused four women, his successor, Barbara Underwood became the first woman to ever be sworn in to the post. Prior to being named attorney general, Underwood served for a decade as the state’s solicitor general, was acting solicitor general of the United States under George W. Bush, and argued 20 cases before the Supreme Court. But as one might surmise from the events of the 2016 presidential election, Underwood may not necessarily be able to keep the job — even if she’s far and away the most qualified person to ever hold the role, according to her team.

Underwood, who was profiled by Kaitlin Menza of Cosmopolitan magazine, says she plans on continuing the work of her predecessor, who had repeatedly introduced legislation for free contraception, defended abortion clinics, worked to spread awareness about domestic violence, and employed more women in leadership positions than men. Many people are gunning for Underwood’s job — within days of Schneiderman’s resignation, more than a dozen politicians and attorneys expressed interest in succeeding him. State legislators are already meeting with candidates to determine whether they want to appoint someone else within the next few weeks, and an official election will be held for the position, regardless of who might be appointed, in November.

“Somebody once advised me in a different role: You’re in the job while you’re in the job, and you’re in the job until you’re not,” said Underwood, recalling advice given to her in 2001 from then-acting deputy attorney general Robert Mueller — who now leads the Russia investigation as a special counsel for the Justice Department.

“I respect the role the legislature has in this process, and I hope they will view it as an opportunity to do what is best for the office,” she added. “I think, without any arrogance at all, it is fairly obvious that what is best for the office is some continuity.” New York Governor Cuomo has similarly signaled that he believes Underwood is best suited to continue the state’s push for a more equal and fair justice system.

Speaking with Cosmo, members of Underwood’s team and other experts reflected on the importance of the department’s work, and pointedly addressed the question of why no woman had ever been elected to the position of attorney general in New York. As chief deputy attorney general Janet Sabel put it, “It’s telling that when we didn’t have a political process to decide who could lead, Barbara was the obvious choice.”

Watch clips from a recent interview with Underwood below.

Read the full story at Cosmopolitan.

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